Russia past 'cult of personality' threat: Putin
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied he was the object of a "cult of personality" like that which surrounded Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, saying Russian society today would not tolerate such abuse of power.
In an interview with AFP this week, Putin said however that robust civil society was critical for preventing concentration of too much power in one leader's hands and acknowledged Russia still had problems in this area.
"A cult of personality is not just attention to a single person. It is violation of the law on a mass scale, linked with repression.
"Even in my worst nightmares I cannot imagine that this could happen again in Russia today," Putin said in the interview Monday in the Russian Black Sea coastal resort town of Sochi.
"The maturity of today's Russian society, believe me, is is high enough to prevent development of the kinds of processes that we ran up against in the 1930s, 40's and 50's of the last century," Putin said.
Talk of a cult of personality around the 57-year-old strongman surfaced several years ago among Putin critics when the hugely popular former president was photographed bare-chested on horseback and fishing in the Russian wilderness.
Since then, "action" pictures of Putin involved in activities ranging from diving in a submarine to the bottom of Lake Baikal in Siberia to stroking a tiger in Russia's far east have been released by the government periodically.
Putin explained that political leaders throughout the world "attempt to look better than they in fact are, and try to restrict possibilities for mass media" to put those efforts under close public scrutiny.
"In societies where civil society is well developed, the authorities generally do not succeed" in such efforts, he said, adding: "In societies where civil society is not yet fully mature, has not become strong, this kind of manipulation is easier for them."
Referring to the situation in Russia, Putin went on to say: "In this respect, our task is for civil society to mature, to grow, to strengthen and to feel its power."
During eight years in the Kremlin as president, Putin frequently got testy in public when criticized on human rights and civil society issues and his comments to AFP marked a departure from that response.
The interview took place just over a week after Putin faced unusually direct criticism on rights from a veteran rock musician in a videotaped exchange later broadcast on state television and even published on the government's official website.
Putin said he had not gone out of his way to be photographed pursuing sporting and outdoors activities and said he was astonished when the world took interest in his judo prowess shortly after he was first elected president in 2000.
"I've been involved in this sport my whole life," he said. "And when this was first demonstrated before media, I was honestly very surprised that it attracted such big attention."
The purpose of the action pictures was not to burnish his tough-guy image but to give the public a view of how Putin enjoys himself away from work, he said.
"I'm just living my life and doing my job as well as I can."
© 2010 AFP